Archive for February, 2013

Swimming New Zealand Head Coach

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

By David

I’m wondering whether I should polish my resume. Swimming New Zealand has advertised for a National Head Coach. My charms must be tempting. I have the American Swim Coaches Association highest Level Five International qualification and am the recipient of their Coaching Excellence award. I’ve been a National Coach and have coached athletes in five different countries to three world championships and one Olympics. I’ve achieved Swimming New Zealand’s prized “podium finish” and two FINA world records. Commercially I’ve got a good business degree and was once the CEO of, what was then, New Zealand’s largest exporter of animal by-products. I know quite a bit about New Zealand sport. I even write a popular blog on the subject. Yes, I’d say I fit Swimming New Zealand’s job description very well.

However, I have also learned the value of caution. While Swimming New Zealand looks for a permanent coach they have appointed the Australian Bill Sweetenham as Acting Head Coach. Perhaps a review of Sweetenham’s resume will provide me with a better understanding of what Swimming New Zealand is looking for; a better appreciation of the prospect for my application. So that’s what I’ve done and thanks to Google here is some of what I’ve learned.


“Here is what Sweetenham promised. If Swimming New Zealand followed his recommendations and promoted the Millennium Institute, with Cameron in charge, he predicted this would happen.

“New Zealand’s performance at the next Olympics (that’s Beijing) should be judged on 70% (minimum) of all swimmers attending the Games make finals.”

So, what actually happened at the Games? Well, there were fifteen swimmers on that team. Two made finals. That’s 13% of the team compared to Sweetenham’s promise of 70%. His prediction of Cameron’s performance was 82% wrong.

Sweetenham’s second promise was equally ridiculous. On page 54 here is what he said.

“Identify and set expected targets for 2010 Commonwealth Games, and sell to all stakeholders, “HAVE A FINALIST IN EVERY EVENT AT 2010 COMMONWEALTH GAMES”.”

Who would have guessed it? Sweetenham had over predicted again. Instead of 32 finalists, the New Zealand team had 13. That’s an error of 60%.

So, there you have it. Cameron’s ascent to Millennium power was based on two Sweetenham predictions that time has proven to be wrong by 82% and 60%. The whole thing was based on shifting Sweetenham sand.””


Sharron Davies, the BBC presenter and former Olympic silver medallist, has accused Bill Sweetenham of being a coward for stepping down as British Swimming’s performance director less than a year before the Beijing Games.

Davies says Sweetenham leaves the sport in the lurch. “It’s a coward’s time to leave, one year away from the Olympics,” she said. “I think it’s quite clever of him. If Britain aren’t as successful as he said they would be, he can say, ‘It’s nothing to do with me, I haven’t been there for a year’. He should have stuck it out to the end. He said it would take eight years to transform British Swimming, but he did not stay for eight years.”

Davies believes Sweetenham has been given too much credit for results that were achieved during his time in charge and, despite an independent inquiry clearing him last year, she insists his treatment of some swimmers amounted to bullying and drove potential medalists out of the sport.

“I think he was a bully. I don’t think that works when you’re coaching adults. ‘There were many swimmers and coaches who were too afraid to speak out about his methods. And there were many people he hounded out of the sport, like Zoe Baker and great servants like Karen Pickering and Mark Foster.”


Foster can hardly bring himself to mention the name Bill Sweetenham, now departed for his native Australia, who he blames for denying him a place at the Athens Olympics. Mark Foster first competed at the Olympics in 1988 and he is preparing for his fifth Games in Beijing this summer

Foster says he is reveling in the less disciplinarian approach under Michael Scott, the former director of the Australian Institute of Sport who replaced Sweetenham almost a year ago.

“It is a lot more relaxed and upbeat,” he said. “With Sweetenham, he was a bit of a dictator. In the team you had got swimmers aged 16 up to my age, but he treated us all like kids. Sweetenham was more like: ‘You don’t know anything.’”


Commonwealth champion Karen Pickering, who has just retired, agreed that Sweetenham’s methods may have hastened a number of retirements.

“I think Bill has played a part,” Pickering told BBC Five Live. “The way things have been over the last couple of years it has played a part.”

And she added: “Bill is somebody who tends to point the finger when results don’t go the way he wants. “He works very well with junior swimmers and not with seniors.”


“Sweetenham talks out of both sides of his mouth… where does he get off making his country’s qualifying times so fast that only 12 people on the planet could have achieved that time in 2003? Who is Bill Sweetenham to make such a judgment? This judgment by Sweetenham should be an outrage. In the past Bill Sweetenham has criticized Mark’s training and has even gone as far to say that Mark doesn’t like the sport as reported by Craig Lord in “The Times” on December 17th 2002. There was another Sweetenham quote in that article that said Mark and Zoe Baker are ”not worth spending any more of my time on.”

Like several coaches across sports Sweetenham runs a boot camp in which he essentially runs kids into the ground and whoever survives will make the Olympics. Once they have achieved Olympic success he’ll dispose of them and bring in a new crop with no concern for their longevity or ability to earn a living.”


“Bill Sweetenham is very weak on man-management skills, which I believe is an important part of the problem. I hear that he’s good with kids, but that’s because they don’t talk back. You can talk at kids but you have to talk to adults.

That’s his biggest problem. He’s not good at talking to people. If you question or undermine him, he can’t manage it. That’s why he employs lot of “yes” people around him.”


Before the Athen’s [sic] opening ceremony, I watched Bill Sweetenham the coach of the GB swimming team confidently asserting that they were probably the best prepared swimming team ever. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so convinced when I saw the squad half-heartedly responding to the coach’s attempts at motivational chanting. Sorry, but it is naïve to imagine that such exhibitions constitute satisfactory psychological preparation. With only two bronze medals to show for the team’s efforts, this could hardly be judged a successful meet.

For a team supposedly so well prepared, why were the performances falling so far short of expectations? Adrian Moorhouse was dismayed at the number of British swimmers who reported problems with focus and concentration. Two possible explanations occur to me: either the fatigue was physical, caused by overtraining, or psychological, caused by competitive stress. If this was the best-prepared swim team ever, why was this aspect of training apparently neglected?

Shouldn’t developing the mental skills of our swimmers have been a cornerstone of their preparation for Athens? There appears to be an element here of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The performance results of British swimmers, apparently entering the Olympic pool without focusing skills, has put paid to any suggestions that they were the best prepared team ever.


No wonder the Millennium swimmers wanted Regan to stay. They must have Google searched Sweetenham as well. In my case – sadly, I’ve returned my resume to its folder. My research has proven beyond doubt that I’m not the sort of person Swimming New Zealand have in mind for this job. And I’m hoping that there are no other coaches in my country who match the published talents of Swimming New Zealand’s new Acting Head Coach.


Friday, February 1st, 2013

Hi everyone,

We’ve received a couple of emails about how our comment form is still broken, and about how it detracts from the usefulness of Swimwatch. Just a quick note to say that we totally agree, and apologise for how long it’s been broken, and are on the case. Thanks for reading :)